My prayer struggle
Prayers of a doubting Thomasina
At one time in my life I really believed in the power of prayer. I am not saying that I no longer believe in it but I am much more cautious about what I pray for and I often struggle to believe that God is not capricious in his answers and his timing. One of the long-term residual effects of Jim’s illness and death is that I have a hard time praying. I suppose the inconsistency in answers and the feeling that He is not intervening has created a barrier that blocks the desire to keep company with God. One of my most often prayed prayers in the last 5 years is, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” It is hard to even admit that I wrestle with how to pray and with how little I feel I pray when I have been walking with Jesus for so long, but I think it is about time to admit I am anemic.
One of the things I told Emily when we were first walking through the valley and she expressed her difficulty in prayer, specifically for healing, is that I have a hard time asking God to heal someone when He chose not to heal Jim. Instead I pray not for healing but for God’s will to be done and for those involved to lean in and learn from Him. I can say with full integrity that God is there with the brokenhearted, he is the great physician and he grants grace and strength for each day.
I recognize that some prayers are frivolous like praying for a victory in a soccer match or for a parking place as one trolls around a mall at Christmas time. But why does it seem that sometimes God answers to heal and then other times he is seemingly silent. I wish sometimes that it wasn’t so difficult to trust when I don’t get my way. Prayer is not a magical incantation that guarantees a certain result and I wouldn’t want it to be. Instead, I am invited to a conversation where I can tell God what I think should be done in the/my world (albeit selfishly most of the time) and God constantly and gently reminds me of my role in the process. Learning to live on a slant, leaning in and always dependent, knowing that though the journey is never predictable I can be confident that God wants a relationship with me, and He has a wild imagination. His ways are not my ways and his thoughts are not my thoughts. God has a different perspective. His sense of irony, antagonistic spiritual powers and a fallen planet means that my prayers often produce different answers than I expect.
The biggest thing I need to be reminded of is that I am not owed anything. God does not owe me an explanation, an answer, or even to be listened to. I am not entitled to anything. NOTHING! There is nothing I can do to coerce God to do what I want Him to do. Every breath is a gift. Every prayer is submission to God’s will and an intimate encounter with God in the throne room to sense his love and gain his perspective. It doesn’t always happen, in fact it doesn’t happen often enough for me. Every answer is a privilege and responsibility. God who has everything and needs nothing invites those of us who have nothing and need everything to talk and grow close, to experience communion and the depth in the relationship for which we were created. Prayer is meant to be a joy, as I reflect on the fact that God delights in me and sings over me.
So why does it often feel like work or the lack of sensing God’s presence? I am under the suspicion that when I expect my prayers to change God rather than allow my prayers to soften and change my heart I find His lack of answers frustrating at best. It is the lack of willingness to defer to His wisdom and will. Further, I have discovered that the very act of praying, especially when I don’t want to, brings change. As I start to complain, to argue, to make my request and share my hope I realize that my perspective is myopic and often my thinking is small-minded. When I enter into God’s presence, he convicts, restores and enlarges my perspective. My posture is restored to a place where I can depend on God and I can be safe, honest and listen.
PS – This showed up in the Biola Parent email – wow!
Someone once encouraged me by sharing, “Prayer is not changing the mind of a stubborn God but rather laying hold of His willingness.” Prayer allows us to participate in and witness first-hand God’s compassion for our needs, our struggles and our desires. We see this over and over in the scriptures: from God to Israel (Exodus 3:6-8), from David’s cries to God (Psalm 40:1-3) and from Jesus to his followers (Matthew 7:7-11). Let’s lift up our prayers this month with hope and faith knowing we serve a loving and willing God.